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Will 2018 Be the Year that All Sponsored Instagram Posts Are Properly Signposted?

A new review by the Advertising Standards Authority will assess whether current guidelines are fit for purpose

Ellie Foreman-Peck/EFP

Marketing and advertising news site The Drum revealed yesterday that the sector’s principal watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), is to launch a review into how paid influencer promotions and posts are signposted online. The main aim of the review will be to assess whether current guidelines around sponsored content are fit for purpose.

When it comes to the UK’s hospitality industry, they definitely aren’t, as even a cursory look at the food and restaurant influencer landscape on social media would suggest. ASA chief executive Guy Parker positioned the issue succinctly: “People shouldn’t have to play the detective to work out if they’re being advertised to. That means the status of a tweet, blog, vlog, Instagram post or story should be clear.” At present, this is far from being the case.

Although the wording currently in place from the Committee for Advertising Practice dictates that “both brands and influencers have a responsibility to ensure consumers are made aware that content is sponsored before they engage with it” — and even though Instagram has introduced a labelling system to increase transparency — declarations that fulfil this requirement are thin on the ground; the fact that only some users follow the rules makes it even harder to discern the genuine from the commercial.

No word (yet) on what the likely outcome of the review will be, though it is hard to conceive of a scenario in which things are allowed to continue in the current vein for much longer. Stronger regulatory wording and stricter policing would be a start, but here’s hoping for a brave new world where it is mandatory for sponsored content to be clearly flagged. Because whilst there’s nothing inherently wrong in using an influencer — paid or otherwise — as a way of spreading news and building buzz, regular punters deserve to know when they’re getting an honest endorsement and when there are other forces at play. Recent months have seen an upsurge in the use of #invite to disclose comped meals. Could 2018 be the year of #spon?

As one notable UK restaurant critic put it, “The fun starts here...”